Travis Garner

I delivered this message to my congregation at The Village this weekend, and I hope it might be a helpful message beyond our church family.

Dear Village Family,

This week I have a heavy heart. I know I’m not alone in that. I went to Saturday night the same way that many of us did, saddened by the news of what was happening across our city and around the country. Saddened even more by the underlying reality that preceded the week’s events.

We live in divided times, but this, in my estimation, is not a divided issue. This is not an “either/or” scenario. As much as many people would like us to believe, this is not about picking a side in the false dichotomy between “blue lives matter” and “black lives matter.” Real life isn’t as simple and straightforward as our slogans and bumper stickers might try to make it out to be. False dichotomies are not helpful in times like this.

This IS about another heartbreaking instance of injustice, inequality, and racism, all of which, for people of faith, are contrary to the good news of Jesus. George Floyd lost his life in the most senseless manner last week. As a person of faith, I believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, and when he did, he broke down the dividing walls between people and created a new, unified humanity, a family of every tribe, nation, and tongue, a family where George Floyd and I are brothers.

Because he was a human being made in the image of God, George Floyd did not deserve what happened to him, nor does anyone else deserve to be treated in this way. My heart is breaking for his family and also for all who live in the real and constant fear of this happening to them.

As someone who loves and follows Jesus, I can simultaneously say that I love and appreciate police officers and those who protect and serve our communities, and that this is a horrific wrong that has been done, not only once, but over and over again, and something must change.

Last Sunday in the church was a day called “Pentecost Sunday.” Pentecost Sunday is considered the birthday of the church. It’s a day that happened several weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the first followers of Jesus, and when that happened, it resulted in people from all different backgrounds and languages being united together into a new family.

The story goes that the people were all gathered together and when the Holy Spirit came down everyone in the crowd could suddenly hear the message in a language they could understand. And in that moment, God broke down the dividing walls between all people and said very clearly “This message is for you. All of you.”

There’s a beautiful scene in the book of Revelation chapter 7 that’s a vision of what this ultimately looks like. Revelation 7:9-10 says this, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands, and they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

A great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

This is the vision that God has for his people.

This includes me. This includes you. This includes George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. This includes my friend who is white and who got called into work as a police officer in Nashville last Saturday night and for the first time in his career had to put on riot gear for fear of being harmed. Every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, united together, knit together into a new family.

There’s a lot of politicized talk happening around us about whether or not church is “essential.” I’ll weigh in on that and say that I believe that Church is absolutely essential, but it’s not our gatherings on Sunday mornings that make us essential, it’s the impact we have the rest of the week all over the community that makes us essential.

We’re not essential if we gather for an hour on Sundays and everything around us stays the same. We’re only essential inasmuch as we are making a tangible difference in the lives of our neighbors and our city.

I know I still have a long way to go in my understanding of my role in all of this and the harm I’ve done, both knowingly and unknowingly. I have a lot of learning and listening yet to do. I have learned enough to know that I am sorry for the ways I’ve been part of the problem and for all of the things that I still can’t see, and I am praying for God’s love and goodness and righteousness and justice to come.

I believe that now more than ever our country needs more fully devoted followers of Jesus per square inch, people committed to hope and healing and forgiveness and restoration and reconciliation and justice. I am praying that you and I can have the wisdom, courage, and strength to be counted among those people.

Following Jesus Together,

Travis

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